Water Liars: the product of hard work and happy accidents
I cannot tell a lie: Water Liars could be one of the hardest working bands out there.
The Mississippi-born folk rock band is almost perpetually on the road, travelling the nation and playing shows. When the band isn't on the road, the founding duo of Andrew Bryant and Justin Kinkel-Schuster (with recently added bassist GR Robinson) is recording new material, releasing an album every year since 2011 – "Phantom Limb," "Wyoming" and most recently, a self-titled album released this past February.
And when they're not endlessly recording or performing or travelling or writing, they have to talk to reporters like me about endlessly recording and performing and travelling and writing. Which is exactly what happened when I chatted with Kinkel-Schuster before the band's upcoming gig at Quarters Rock 'n' Roll Palace on Sunday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m. We talked about the band's oddly accidental origins, life on the road and his dream "True Detective" season two pairing.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys come together?
Justin Kinkel-Schuster: Well, we came together basically by accident. Andrew (Bryant), the other original member, and I had been friends for several years, but in the spring of 2011, I went down to his place to record some songs I'd been working on. We ended up playing them together, and it turned into our first record – essentially without trying to make a record.
Once it seemed like there was some interest in putting it out as a record and we both felt really strongly that it was one of the better things either of us had ever worked on before – compounded with the fact that we were really good friends and we'd never really worked together on music before – we figured we should give it a try. So we put out the record and started touring, and we haven't stopped since.
OMC: I was going to ask because, in your bio, it talks about how your first album was an accident, so the band and the album both were accidents all at once.
JKS: Very much so. A couple of the happiest accidents I've ever had.
OMC: When was that first moment when you thought this could be a legitimate thing you could do as a career? Was it in that moment or …
JKS: (laughs) God no. We've both been doing it full-time for probably about the last year and a half or so. As we speak, it's still at times very hand-to-mouth. I don't think any of us have that feeling of security. That's how it is for anyone who's doing their own creative enterprise for a living. We've gotten to the point where we can kind of keep ourselves going and have a little bit left for when we're not on the road. But we're still very much in the process of trying to build things.
OMC: Obviously, you guys are working hard, as you're almost always on tour. How do you keep going and keep yourself up?
JKS: (laughs) Well, after a while, you just kind of pick out ways and strategies to sort of marshal your resources, I guess. We're not the type of guys anymore that are going out partying and getting crazy and stuff like that. Not doing any of that stuff makes it easier to keep our heads on the road. It's just a point of, if you take it seriously enough, you'll find ways of coping and keeping your head on your shoulders rather.
It's obviously not as easy as that. Some people are able to find ways of coping with it, and some people aren't. You just kind of take it one day at a time. Some days are just worse than others, and you have to fight it a little bit more.
OMC: Do you guys watch anything or do anything fun on the road to bide the time?
JKS: Oh yeah, man. We try to watch TV when we can. That's always a good relaxation tool. There have been a few shows lately that we were been trying to catch, like when "True Detective" was on, we were always making sure we were in a hotel on Sunday nights so we could watch that.
OMC: It's a great show.
JKS: It was f*cking great! It makes a really big difference if you can catch a few hours of downtime each day where you can vegetate. It's really helpful.
OMC: It seems like every single actor out in Hollywood has been rumored to be in "True Detective" season two. If you could pick two actors, who would you pick?
JKS: Interesting. Off the top of my head, I would say … I think Sam Rockwell would be great, and I think John Goodman would be great for that show too.
OMC: I would watch the hell out of that show. Now, you guys have released an album every year for the past three years. How do you find time to write and record these songs at such a prolific pace with all of the touring?
JKS: Really, it's not something we've ever had to put a lot of thought into. To me, it's just a matter of work. I'm always writing, and I think if you are serious about something as a craft, then you'll be exercising it and working on it as much as you can. I guess I just don't see a reason not to. If you're going to work, why not make something out of it? I don't see much of another way.
If you think about it, that's how it was back in the '50s and '60s. All those bands from back then would not only have a record a year, they'd have two records a year. They were working all the time. I don't see anything odd about it. (laughs)
OMC: How does the writing process work for you guys?
JKS: Well, the start of each song is always different. It can come from anything: a first line, a chord progression. Once I have the song worked out and finished on my end, then we'll take it to Andrew, and we'll start thinking about it and talking about what we want to do with it. Then once we get into the studio, we'll have a pretty solid idea of what we want to do with it and go from there.
OMC: For your latest self-titled album, you added a bass player. What was the thought process behind that move? Had you been working toward it for a while?
JKS: We were a two-piece – guitar and drums – for about a year, a year and a half. We always wanted and missed having a low end; we just thought we couldn't afford to bring anyone else on tour, and we've always had a great vibe, just the two of us. But when we got to the point where we felt like we wanted and needed and were able to have the low end, we wanted to have it. Once we had the ability, we decided we would like to have it.
OMC: Did that change anything?
JKS: No, no, not at all. When I'm writing songs, that doesn't really matter to me. The songs are going to be what they're going to be, regardless (laughs) of what anybody else thinks about them.
OMC: Are you considering adding more instruments as you guys go along?
JKS: We've talked about maybe trying to get a keyboard, but logistically, the more people you bring in, the more of a pain in the ass it is. It's just more mouths to feed. I don't see it happening anytime soon.
OMC: Are there any main inspirations for your songs, whether musically or from life?
JKS: None that I could point to you now and give you a specific example that wouldn't sound strange out of context. The things I write about are a fair mix of life and fiction writing. I'm always reaching for a blend of those two things.
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